I had a few inquiries about my recent Spanish immersion experience in Costa Rica (recent as in I just finished unpacking yesterday!), so I thought I'd share my thoughts here rather than hijack the What Did You Do Today?
Let me start by saying the overall experience was fantastic. Harder than I would have ever imagined to 'stay' in Spanish mode 24/7, but still fantastic.
I participated in a program run by CPI Spanish Immersion School
, a well regarded, long time language immersion school in Costa Rica. I did this program on my own, without DH, and CPI took care of every detail, starting with their meet-and-greet at the airport in San Jose when I arrived.
The program has lots of options, from homestays with local Costa Rican families, to private apartments. I opted not to do a homestay for my first go-round, because I enjoy having a bit of privacy each day, and because this was also about enjoying Costa Rica, not just immersing myself in the language.
For people more intent on really ramping up their Spanish, I'd highly recommend a homestay. Your surroundings might be a bit more sparse as a result, but you'll be completely immersed in Spanish, a definite benefit.
The basic program offers four hours of language study each day, Monday through Friday, then a combination of trips in the afternoon to enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer. CPI has three campuses in Costa Rica - Heredia, which is near San Jose, Flamingo, which is on the beach, and Monteverde, which is in the cloud forest.
I split my time between Heredia and Flamingo, one week in each. Were I to do it again, I would bypass Heredia, and choose Monteverde and Flamingo instead, as Heredia is 'just' a city, where the other two have a lot more small town charm IMO.
The classes were very small, ranging from two to four students each, and the instruction was excellent. The teachers seemed extremely well trained in Spanish grammar, which I believe I now know better than English grammar! There was nightly homework to enhance what had been covered in class, and I learned a tremendous amount as a result. Though I didn't partake this time around, there were options to take additional classes in the afternoon.
Although the school has vans to take students to and from class, I opted to walk instead so I could get a little exercise, and experience street life in the process. It proved to be a wonderful way to start and end the school day, and I was able to practice a little Spanish in the process.
My fellow students proved to be an incredibly diverse lot. CPI has a program dedicated to those in the medical field (i.e. terminology heavy) so there were several doctors amidst my fellow students. I also met two foreign diplomats preparing for upcoming assignments in Spanish speaking countries, retirees working on their language skills, young people exploring career options that speaking Spanish might provide, teachers in Spanish-heavy communities, and, for some reason, quite a few Swedes that simply wanted to add Spanish to their list of spoken languages.
During the weekends there were numerous trips offered to both enjoy Costa Rica's natural beauty and provide transportation to the next school (though some students elected to take all of their classes at one campus, most split their time between two or all three). The weekend trips were very reasonably priced, which resulted in some pretty sparse housing, I won't lie, but were still loaded with fun and interesting activities.
Highlights: Speaking and being understood in Spanish (yeah!), waking up to the sounds of tropical birds and, often, howler monkeys, shopping at the local mercado for my nightly dinner fixings, the incredibly helpful local Costa Ricans who, used to having Spanish students in their mix, helped correct my numerous errors at every turn.
Lowlights: The frustration of trying to make myself understood in a non-native to me language (!). A good humbling experience to be sure.
Now that I'm home, my plan is to study, study, study and return again in about two years for another go-round.